How to be a tall person at work

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The Institute of Social and Economic Research recently published a study about the connection between popularity in high school and earning power later in life. New York magazine, information source to the rich and popular, summarized the study like this: “This study may seem to burst our Revenge of the Nerds fantasies, but it’s logical that people who are attractive, likable, and socially comfortable”?the class officers, the cheerleaders”?should get ahead in corporate settings.”

There is absolutely irrefutable data to support the idea that good-looking people do better in life than everyone else. Gordon Patzer, in his book, Looks, draws from a wide body of research to describe the advantaged life of a good-looking person from the time they are a baby (good-looking babies get better parenting) to the time they are in sales (the whole sales team performs better if there are more good-looking people on the team.)

As a result, I have jumped on the plastic surgery bandwagon. Super-smarty Chelsea Clinton got plastic surgery before she entered the work world. We should all do that. And while I haven’t taken my own advice, I do find myself pinching and pulling at my nose to see what it would look like after a $10,000 investment.

But wait. Before you take out a loan to straighten your nose, maybe you should just start thinking like a tall person. Being good-looking means having the right mix of a lot of things, and for you, being tall might be the final keystone to hold it all in place. (Wondering if you’re already tall? Fast Company has the answer: over 6’3″ for men and over 5’9″ for women, which, by the way, makes me half-an-inch into the land of the tall.)

Tall people make $789 more per inch per year, and are 90% more likely to ascend to the CEO chairs of Fortune 500 Companies, according to Arianne Cohen, author of The Tall Book. She scoured the sociology, psychology and workplace research to determine why tall people succeed (she herself is 6’3″). And Cohen discovered that the behaviors tall people display can be mimicked by anyone in order to get the career benefits of being tall.

Here’s what Cohen says to do, based on the research she’s gathered:

Be unforgettable. Due to evolutionary programming, when a tall guy walks into a meeting, everyone registers that he’s there, and remembers what he says. This is a huge boon for someone who’s also an ambitious, talented worker. So be noticeable. Figure out a way that when you walk in the room, everyone registers it. You can do that through interesting (but professional) clothing, cracking jokes when you walk in, etc.

Act like the boss. Tall children, from a very young age, are deemed the “leader” of their friends. Other little kids literally look up to them and often treat them as they would a slightly older child, and as a result, they’re more likely to function as the leader for the rest of their life. Even as interns, other office workers give them the physical space and attention usually reserved for a leader. So act like a leader.

Find a way to look down on coworkers. Literally. An eye cast down is a really powerful behavior — it’s the body’s way of signaling a power imbalance in your favor, and you can create that power imbalance with some attention to your positioning. Thus, stand whenever you can when coworkers are sitting, and avoid walk-and-talks and casual standing around the office where coworkers are looking down at you.

Guard your personal space. Close friends hold conversations 18″ apart; friends 2-3′ apart, and bosses and employees four feet apart. Coworkers naturally give tall people four-or-more feet, which means that from the beginning, they’re treated with boss-like reverence. You can mimic this body language — simply send out the physical vibe of professionalism, not chumminess, even in casual conversation. You’ll see that people step back, and give you more space.

Don’t be shy. Tall people often build an oversize personality to fit their oversize bodies. In the workplace tall people are more likely to yell or make demands or pull off a tongue-in-cheek toast to the boss. Socially, they take chances, and those chances are rewarded.

Focus on image rather than competence. Tall people aren’t actually better workers, but in surveys, their bosses think they are. Which means that though competence matters, the perception of competence matters much more. So stop spending so much time on your work, and start spending more time on this list of ways to look tall.

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  1. Donn Christianson
    Donn Christianson says:

    In his book, “Living the Martial Way,” Forrest E. Morgan speaks of this subject. He doesn’t address how an incompetent person can get ahead by manipulating the lizard brain programming of his peers. That doesn’t seem to be his goal.

    What he does address is bearing. Standing up straight matters. Posture or height aren’t what make others notice you. It’s the change in your *bearing*, how you address the world, how you move through it.

    I’m 5′ 10″. I’ve worked in situations (not corporate) where bearing matters more than moving up to the boardroom. Lack of bearing could lead to a confrontation that can get you killed.

    I’ve backed down much larger men, much taller men, with my bearing alone. That bearing came from body positioning, which led to an erect and alert posture, making me appear much taller than I actually was.

    Height is but one component but a tall person can slouch, be meek and ineffective as the next. As a matter of fact, if they aren’t confident in their height, if they have been belittled for it and believed that, they are more likely to not express their full posture, and hence their personal power.

    Loved the article. Very funny.

  2. Ken Wolman
    Ken Wolman says:

    This just might be a put-on. Or it might be a commentary on vapidity and a whore culture. How to succeed in business without really trying: gents, walk into a meeting wearing a codpiece or with paper towels stuff down the front of your pants. Ladies: show up wearing Fuck Me Pumps. Is there nothing in the author’s world view that is not focused on money? Does she retain any personal integrity? You know what personal integrity is, folks: being who and what you are and recognizing that you are not your paycheck.

  3. Kelli
    Kelli says:

    Penelope –

    In my mind’s eye I always pictured you as on the shorter side. Do you think this is because I myself am 5’2″? All this time I’ve been thinking, ‘she must have been the shortest one on her volleyball team.’

  4. Christina
    Christina says:

    True, taller people may give interviewers a “bigger and stronger” impression but we short people can still do many things to try and brand ourselves and stand out from the candidate pool.

    Not only should you brand yourself by exuding confidence and sell yourself during your interview, but you should also brand yourself online. With so much competition during this hard economy, we need to do as much as we can to stand out. is a social networking portal that allows people to brand yourself online as well as network with professionals. It is mainly targeted towards students on their first, second or third job. I found this a great way to meet recruiters and have an edge over my competition.

  5. Meg
    Meg says:

    I’m only 5ft2 and look young for my age. I visited my Mom last week at the High School she teaches at. I was asked for a late note from my parents on the way in and a hall pass while I was en route to her classroom.

    I have found that for me, the higher the heel the better. It’s weird. When I am at almost eye level with my boss it’s a completely different conversation.

  6. Diana
    Diana says:

    Lance, did you really say, “Being tall SHOULD give you a physical advantage in social/business settings”? Should?

    Ridiculous. As ridiculous as treating men who wield basketballs as Gods, but poets as lepers.

    Oh, and Lance? I hope you’re tall because Lance is a very tall name to live up to.

    Seriously, must ALL our cultural preferences be based on the proposition that “size matters”? Think about it “you guys.” I say if that’s true, then drop ’em so we can evaluate your worth on sight.

    • Lance
      Lance says:

      @Diana, what I should have said was that being tall should give you an advantage in business and social settings, not necessarily a physical advantage. Physical advantage implies physical tasks like sports or a fight or something.

      Being tall can help, but I’ve rarely seen strong, compelling leaders in tall bodies. Every tall person I’ve ever met in a business setting I’ve overshadowed with a combination of great BL, knowledge, and articulation. I actually think we agree with each other here, but wasn’t sure from how you wrote your comment.

      BTW, I’m medium height and big where it counts.

      • Diana
        Diana says:

        Hi Lance, I was pissed off at the entire subject matter, sorry to single you out. I don’t think we’re totally at odds, but you’re still saying “being tall should give you an advantage in business and social settings”. Why should it? It’s just a given? What does height have to do with intelligence in business or attractiveness in social settings? I just am appalled. Why do we do this – assign meaning to purely physical traits? Social Darwinism, pfft.

        It’s like Sasha Baron Cohen’s really bad joke:
        “God, man, horse, dog, woman, then rat, then small krutzouli” (and all the “variations” therein). I’m glad he’s bringing all these prejudices about irony and identity to light.

        Women are already pissed off that we are running second in the race. Add to that obsession with prettiness, breast size, and height and you’re left with needing to resemble Barbie even in business.

        Stillettos at work? Give me a break, please? I thought we made a difference in the 60s, but the pendulum swings. I want my frizzy, long hair and Birkenstocks back.

  7. Sharon Smith
    Sharon Smith says:

    I am a tall women at almost 5’10” and let me tell you almost everday I wish I was two inches shorter! I’m an odd ball and stick out among a crowd. I also wear flats and wish I could wear high heels, but feel odd being so much taller than so many of the men. My father was 6’4″ and when he walked in he commanded a room. Pleople always looked turned to him and listened – not so much for me. I think tall men might get more respect than tall women. I’ve held my own and think I have received merit on my abilities and not because of my height.

  8. Timothy Waters
    Timothy Waters says:

    I heard/read this before and being 47 with over 27 years in the work force, I see it constantly. As a 5’9″ man, its affected my behavior and consequently life negatively. And not just in the work place. But outside the work place. In fact in my personal life its worse. Because this fact is NOT just in the work place.

    I’ve managed to overcome or manage to have the advantages of taller, more good-looking men very well. I would not do it again. It has a negative affect on your whole life, or maybe it was just me. Its a fact of life to be sure. I’ve taught my sons how to deal with it and (IMNTBHO) how not to deal with it. My shortest son has done the best. Taller, good-looking, and even older and/or people in authority defer to him within seconds of meeting him and he has a “following”, not so much friends per se (he’s only 18 now). And I don’t think he will have the lasting issues I have had (because having done it well, but wrong, I was able to refine how to handle it, but it was way too late for me. This is one of only two genuine parental successes I can think of). In fact its amusing to me to watch this effect in action: when people meet me somewhere where my son works or works out, or hangs out ie where he is known, I’m initially treated like I’m invisible. Until they find out I’m K’s dad. Then you see the literal “step-back” you spoke of about personal space.

    But in the end its sad. Sad that people have to be manipulated to even come close to fair in human created institutions..I really don’t think the approach in your blog will serve anyone well. Just wearing high heels, peacocking, etc are acts for you to keep up. and up. and up. If you have a brain, you will soon feel stupid, even when it works….
    (what works? or what I taught my sons? That would take a long article to explain, but as brief as I can its simply, being aware for the perfect time for tall guy or (in my opinion more than height, its a woman with big ***s, and thats not even my “thing” so-to-speak) to make assumptions, and make them pay for it. HARD. Make anyone else who is making stupid and false assumptions pay for it HARD too. It will override this natural height, good looking thing. Takes longer, but it carries on just as well).
    – jonathan strange

  9. Julia
    Julia says:

    Ow! Is there really no chance for us under 5’4″? :)

    No seriously, I agree with the tall part. I am 5’3″ and pretty much always wear heels, and as a result of always standing tall, have a really nice posture…:) Not being tall and thus physically more imposing, it’s harder to speak from a position of authority. “Who was it talking right now? (Look down…) Ah, there she is…”

    I always try to stand in the cubicle situation when someone is speaking and not sit, because it makes for very awkward conversation. And I look down whenever I can, because it’s rare that I can literally look down at people.

    So I totally agree with compensating by being noticeable–funny, good-looking, well-dressed, great perfume, etc. Since there is no plastic surgery for height, it’s futile to get too upset about it…I wear heels, put hair up, wear pants long, use v-necks and straight lines in clothing–having done so without consciously trying to seem taller.

  10. Lance
    Lance says:

    There’s something else no one is really touching on, but I think it’s worth taking the lid off of. What happens if you’re tall and “ugly” or even just out-of-shape? Guess what, in that situation being tall is a huge disadvantage. Why? Because now you’re intimidating, and in the worst cases, monstrous.

    IMO, it’s far far better to be of medium or regular height and in really good shape. Good fitness projects physical health, vitality, virility, healthy eating, self-discipline, and obvious respect for one’s own body. And guess what? ANYONE can get physically fit!! We can’t grow any more, but you can always get our asses in the gym and improve our presentation!

  11. Kat Wilder
    Kat Wilder says:

    Thinking tall means, to me, having confidence – or at least getting everyone else to believe you do.

    Tall, short, ugly or not, believing in yourself and being at peace with yourself (and taking care of yourself) goes a long way, along with a genuine smile and some wit, whether at work or in the dating world.

    Sadly, a lot of women focus on (obsess about?) their negatives, and then just become insecure. There’s nothing attractive or sexy about that ..

  12. chick swami
    chick swami says:

    lots of exceptions to this money is skin deep myth…lots of uglies makin money

    Letterman, bill gates, Oprah, Rosie Odonnell

    But if u feel u must cut to cash in use the whiteout approach

    Target where mistakes can be hidden or fixed on the downlow

    This means butt or breasts
    Stay away from the face

    Face work is less natural looking and much harder to get right the first time

    Butt and breasts will get u the attention u want w/o the same risk as face surgery

  13. Jack
    Jack says:

    It would be very insightful to see that if you make $789 more per inch of height, then how much more do you make per 5 points of IQ, or how much more you make per additional hour of work you put in. The best one might be how much more you make per $ contribution you make to your firm.

    I’m pretty sure that intelligence, hard work and your $ contribution to your company are far more important than height. In terms of percentage, $789 per inch isn’t that much for an executive making $80,000 per year.

  14. BahiaBabe
    BahiaBabe says:

    Living in the land of plastic surgery– Miami– I don’t think that’s the answer. If it’s not done right, you can lose a lot of personality (uniqueness) that helps you ‘be’ tall.

    You don’t have to be tall, or wear heels, to ‘be’ tall. Everyone always puts my height at 5’9″ or 5’10”; I’m actually 5’6″ and I don’t wear heels (@MeredithElaine, I’m in your camp– way too painful!). My mother is even shorter– 5’2″ (although she’ll tell you 5’3″), and people think she’s taller too. People think we’re tall because we both have ‘presence’; if you can feel a person’s energy when they walk into the room, they’ll feel taller to you.

  15. yvette
    yvette says:

    @mike wilson:
    “Shoulders back and straight. If you don’t get accused of being in the military, you’re doing it wrong. (this is not gender-specific advice. I am a weak kneed fool for a woman with this kind of air of confidence, a hilarious irony.)”

    so a confident woman is ironic? you’re a douche. get over yourself. nobody likes a loud, insecure dickhead in cowboy boots.

  16. Mike Wilson
    Mike Wilson says:

    Good God no. The irony isn’t “confident woman” by any means. What’s ironic is the way a confident woman turns me to total mush.

    Perhaps ironic isn’t quite the right word.

  17. jheri
    jheri says:

    The study linking IQ to height has been discredited and the wage to height studies for women compared -1 sigma to +1 sigma female populations. I would agree that tall guys do better in business, but my own experience is a really tall woman has problems and the studies don’t support continually increasing height is equated to higher earnings.

    Oh – I’m 6’3 which is something over 3.5 sigma for women in their 20s.

  18. le
    le says:

    hello P – tall is an attitude not a measurement – at 5foot 2 1/2 inches I am way taller than many on the days I want to be.

    I did find the space thing interesting … I am about to take up a ceo role with a troubled organisation and had already decided I would have to go in ‘firm’ as opposed to a softer stance – so now I will recall the four foot space rule and sit all the staff down for meetings – hee hee le

  19. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I think I need to watch more old movies. A quote from Shunderson at the end of the movie ‘People Will Talk’ (1951) I recently watched relative to this post –
    “Professor Elwell, you’re a little man. It’s not that you’re short. You’re…little, in the mind and in the heart. Tonight, you tried to make a man little whose boots you couldn’t touch if you stood on tiptoe on top of the highest mountain in the world. And as it turned out…you’re even littler than you were before.”
    Maybe it’s just my perception, a generalization, or that I’m getting older (but not old) – a larger share of movies today have less character development and story line compared to older movies.

  20. Christian R
    Christian R says:

    Your editor(s) do a good job, you manage your image even better, and in this case at least, you’re incompetent. How sad to think that so many insecure people will follow the third-rate, straight-to-the-discount-bin so-called advice you disseminate in this moronic post. You encourage devious and unnatural behavior which even the dumbest corporate drone can see through in a flash, thus degrading further the already diseased atmosphere of the corporate workplace. You mindlessly or cynically contribute to the increase in mental illness among the population, you creepily hit from the back the already terminally ill social contract, and you probably don’t care that your half-baked, inane proclamations accelerate the decline of your world.

    Your fixation on “earning power” helps bring about the end of your world, and you don’t even realize for a second that it increases the probability that your kid(s) will have to eat tapioca gruel everyday. You, your kind, your society, are doomed. Too bad it will take another 20 or 50 years before the power of asinine “business consultants”, rapacious lawyers, and others of their egocentric ilk lays among the ruins of western civilization.

    • ream
      ream says:


      My first thought about this post was: ugh, why is she using stats like: people over 6.0 make $800 more per inch per year. a meaningless stat that may seem interesting to some people. You’re right, people should not be focusing solely how much they make per year and I think Penelope would agree.

      I thought this post was about confidence building and helping people believe they can be leaders. The things she suggests may, or may not help YOU lead, but who are you to say what is best for people.

      I believe the world needs each of us to be a leaders, of our families, communities, hobbies, whatever we do (so the world you are imagining doesn’t become reality). The traditional workplace, like it or not, is where most of Ps readers are. The workplace needs us to lead, so we can make the workplace sustainable, just, fulfilling. Using worklplace examples are a good way to reach many, even if she must slightly sacrifice the ultimate message. Helping people lead.

      I feel guilty responding to a seemingly unthoughtful comment. Hopefully I shifted someones opinion. Christain, it seems like you’ve got some big ideas and concerns, but with the negativity of your post, no one will listen. I think most care about the future of our world, its too bad some are so apathetic.

  21. Confused in DC
    Confused in DC says:

    Maybe I’m confused, but did you post that you had an abortion because it would ruin your career prospects? And, everyone else around you encouraged you to do so?

    Wow…I’m blown away that something as transient and temporary as careers are considered more important than a child’s life.

    No offense, but how many people that had ‘career plans’ are sitting at home unemployed and unemployable in this current economy?

    What became of all those big plans for those people? They completely evaporated. So, making huge decisions based around a career that could come to a screeching halt at a moment’s notice is clearly not the way to go.

    Then again, it’s those same types of selfish and self-centered ways of thinking that have the economy in its current state…me first, all about me, and the generation of me. So, clearly I’m preaching to the choir on this one.

    Never did understand these sort of arguments around abortions. They all sound so reasonable on the surface, but are always selfish and couched in excuses that flimsily fall apart when you peer beneath the surface.

    Just so…lame.

    • Jack
      Jack says:

      Where do you see abortion in this post? I never really got this rant about how abortion is selfish. Isn’t everything we do in life selfish, done to satisfy our goals/desires?

      In a case where a mother to be, has to choose between aborting and herself dying on the operating table to save the child, you would say that she should choose the latter – after all saving yourself would be selfish?

      Your argument is analogous to the one made to the person who has 10 garments in his wardrobe – do you know there are people in this world, who have nothing to wear? How selfish of you to have 10 clothes?

      How selfish of you to eat three meals a day, when there are people in this world, who struggle to have one meal a day? When there are people dying of hunger?

      I could go on and on, but I hope you get the fallacy of your logic. If you think abortion is selfish, don’t do it. Also, don’t eat more than one meal a day, till you’ve eradicated world hunger. And I am sure you don’t need all those clothes in the closet, do you?

      Go and lead a good life – don’t tell others how they should lead their lives.

  22. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    I have to admit, when I first saw the title “How to be a tall person at work,” I thought the article would be about how to deal with being physically tall at work without alienating/intimidating your coworkers/managers/etc. I’ve seen my share of people who have tried to lead but had no followers because they didn’t relate well to others – they couldn’t get the consent of others to be led.

    Taking a step back, this whole fixation with height – or “height politics” – is messed up. I don’t deny that it’s there, but it seems like it shouldn’t be as big of a deal as people make it out to be. In this post, with people sharing their heights and advantages/disadvantages, it’s almost like we’re all taking out our rulers and comparing.

    In my opinion, the goal shouldn’t be “to act like a tall person” because that gives too much power to height alone as a factor, as others have given examples of short people who are influential and tall people who are not. I think the goal should be to be a person who matters, who is confident, can be decisive, and who doesn’t let hangups about things like height get in the way of a job well done or the respect of your peers/bosses. And I guess maybe to recognize the people who do use height as a factor in their judgment of you, and to not let them discriminate based on that factor.

  23. frasi
    frasi says:

    Most people hate to be powerless, so if they’re not provided with a status-structure in which to exercise some kind of authority, they’ll create one. Teenagers bullying one other and having popularity contests is probably just a way of satisfying that need.

  24. Zohra O'Doherty
    Zohra O'Doherty says:

    Love this post.
    I come from a tall family; my dad is 6″4, my mom is 5″11, I myself am 5″11, my 19 year old brother is 6″6 and my 15 year old brother is 6″0.
    Being tall has always been an insecurity of mine… Towering over my petite friends, never having the confidence to wear amazing high heels… But it is something I try to become proud of everyday.
    This article has definitely helped!

  25. softlaser
    softlaser says:

    I believe all the qualities mentioned in this post can make your social life a more palpable one, and indeed make your role in the office environment a more noticeable one.

  26. Alicia
    Alicia says:

    Being a 5’10” professional woman I loved this article. Maybe it eases the pain of finding pants that are long enough, just a bit.

  27. William Frost
    William Frost says:

    I think a lot of it is how you present yourself. I am attracted to confidence and self assurance that comes through in posture, eye contact, firm handshake, clear and concise speech…

  28. Jo
    Jo says:

    This reminds me of the 30 rock episode where Tina Fey is dating the extremely handsome doctor who he is given a pass for incompetence with everything he does because people want to be near his pretty face/body. But in reality he is a total idiot. He never had to develop his skills at anything because all of the doors were opened for him the second he smiled.

    I know so many women who are like this. They have unusually large boobs, a pretty face, or a great butt or all of the above and they just glide through life with people throwing their coats down for them. But they never really develop any real skills at anything besides the fluffy stuff (makeup/shopping). And this is what this post reminds me of.

    Yeah tall or unusually good looking people are the first out of the gate but once you get into the nitty gritty of things its the average to ugly people who really get things done because they have developed the caluses in life that are needed to deal with the pain of accomplishment.

    So tall goodlooking people just stick to being drug reps. Marry doctors and get out of the way for us average height average looking people because we have a world to run.

  29. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    Interesting. I am 5’11 and I tower over my Indian and Chinese colleagues. I have the natural advantage in the workplace of being white and educated in North America. Do these studies control for that, or do they simply reflect the fact that there is still bias against hiring and promoting Asian minorities?

    • Sid
      Sid says:

      Aren’t Indians and Chinese in the US usually smarter and better educated than the North American Caucasian? I think you’re disadvantaged in this situation.

  30. William Mitchell, CPRW
    William Mitchell, CPRW says:

    I believe it is more about the confidence that good looking people have because of their looks, than it is about the looks themselves. Since high school is a developmental time and all about the outer shell, it stands to reason that the good looking folks spring with more vigor and receptiveness into college and early adulthood due to their positive experiences at the high school level.

    Be it plain looking, short, dumpy, etc., work on the supreme confidence and the doors will open. now, I am not referring to the shallow, phony cockiness that some try to exude that one can see through with a pair of Walgreens reading glasses. I am talking true belief that will withstand scruitiny, insult, misfortune and time.

  31. Tiona
    Tiona says:

    I thing this article is partialy true because if this fainomeno was utterly true than only men would dominate in work as they are usually taller or wiser than women something that fortunately doesn’t happen. I think all these impressions are left to us from the primitive ages when people couldn’t comunicate and had those criteria to deside who will be better in hunting or fighting with the enemy etc.

  32. Tiona
    Tiona says:

    Sorry I meant *wider not wiser. Of course I don’t think men are wiser actually it’s the contrary.!!!

  33. A Different Donald
    A Different Donald says:

    To paraphrase ‘People Will Talk’ (1951) “Mr Trump, you’re a little man. It’s not that you’re short. You’re – little, in the mind and in the heart. Today, you tried to make a man little whose boots you couldn’t touch if you stood on tiptoe on top of the highest mountain in the world. And as it turned out – you’re even littler than you were before.”

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